MSt in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology | University of Oxford
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MSt in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology

About the course

The MSt in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology is a taught course offering a range of options for graduates seeking a higher academic qualification in language studies and wishing to specialise in General Linguistics (including Phonetics but not Applied Linguistics), in Historical and Comparative linguistics, or in the linguistics of a specific language.

In addition to a compulsory paper in linguistic theory, you will specialise in general linguistics (B), or in the linguistics of one or two selected languages (D).

Occasionally, you may specialise in Indo-European historical and comparative philology and linguistics (C). However, option C is not usually feasibly in the MSt unless you have an exceptional level of prior background in this area. There is scope for some work in historical and comparative linguistics in the MSt via the module in Historical and Comparative Linguistics under option B, and via options in the history and structure of specific languages. However, if you would like to specialise fully in Indo-European comparative philology via option C, you are strongly encouraged to apply for the MPhil in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology instead.

Option B

Two exam papers are chosen from the following range:

  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics
  • Historical and Comparative Linguistics
  • Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics 
  • History and Structure of a Language
  • Experimental Phonetics
  • Sociolinguistics

You may also ask for one option in another subject in general linguistics; approval will be subject to the availability of proper instruction and provision for examination.

Option C

Please note that option C is not usually available, unless exceptional circumstances apply.

You select two ancient Indo-European languages or language groups (eg Greek, Italic, Celtic, Anatolian, Indo-Iranian, Slavic etc).

You will choose two of the following three subjects, which are assessed via examination papers: (i) the comparative grammar of the two languages or language groups; (ii) the historical grammar of the two languages or language groups; and (iii) set texts for linguistic commentary in the two languages or language groups.

Option D

You may select either ancient (eg Latin, Sanskrit, Akkadian) or modern languages (eg French, Italian, German, Japanese, Slavic languages). 

You will choose two of the following three subjects, which are assessed via examination papers:

  • (i) the history of one language, or of two historically related languages;
  • (ii) the structure of the language or languages chosen; and
  • (iiia) translation from, and/or linguistic comment on, texts in the language or languages chosen, or (iiib) a project on an aspect of the structure or history of the language, or family of related languages, studied.

Subject (iii) may be replaced with any of the modules listed under option B, except for the history and structure of a language.

One module from option B or D (or C, where this is taken) may be replaced by a thesis of 10,000 words.

Graduate destinations

Some MSt students proceed to doctoral work at Oxford, although the MPhil is normally the faculty's preferred route to a DPhil; others continue academic study at other institutions.

Other career destinations include publishing, secondary and further education, finance, and IT.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in a relevant subject, for example in modern languages, Classics, computer science, philosophy or mathematics.

While some applicants may have a background in linguistics or philology, few will have taken a full undergraduate course in these subjects. The backgrounds of entering students vary considerably, and the MSt curriculum is designed to bring every student to a general understanding of linguistic research, as well as encouraging students to pursue fields of special interest.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

Some modules require background knowledge that is difficult to acquire in a single year, and MSt students are advised to choose these modules only if they already have substantial previous training in relevant background subjects, such as experimental phonetics.

In order to take options in the history and structure of a particular language, students will need to have a good grasp of the relevant language itself, even if they are new to linguistic study of the language. Option C is normally not feasible in the MSt.

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Publications

Applicants are not expected to have publications already, but if they happen to have publications in a relevant area they are encouraged to submit them as their written work.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

In the case of mature students/intended career changes professional experience in cognate areas may compensate for shortcomings in the formal academic record. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Resources

Teaching and research in linguistic subjects is centred around the Centre for Linguistics and Philology, which occupies part of the former Clarendon Press Institute on Walton Street. Facilities for graduate students include a common room, individual lockers, computer workstations and printers and a photocopier. Most graduate courses in linguistics and philology are held in the building, which as a whole is shared with the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

Phonetics Laboratory

The Phonetics Laboratory has excellent provision for research in speech physiology and acoustics, and outstanding computing facilities. The experimental area consists of a recording studio, an acoustics and speech processing laboratory, a physiological laboratory and a speech perception laboratory. Hardware for physiological study, available to students and staff, includes electroglottography, labial electromyography, and oral/nasal aerometry (measurement of air pressures and flow). The studios, for recording and for running experiments, are equipped with high quality microphones and digital recording equipment, and computer systems for the presentation of visual and/or auditory stimuli.

During the coming five years, the Phonetics Laboratory's main priorities for research are: prosody in child language acquisition; functional phylogenetic reconstruction of speech from the past; clinical applications of phonetics and speech technology, such as assessment of speech and language impairments, or of degenerative conditions (such as Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease).

Language and Brain Laboratory

The Language and Brain Laboratory contains 15 rooms including graduate student desk spaces, a meeting room, and several rooms fitted with specialised equipment for running practical experiments to help us understand how the brain processes language. It is an active research laboratory covering all aspects of linguistics, including phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics.

The experimental area includes a sound-proofed audiology booth for recording speech and running speech production and eye-tracking experiments, and a behavioural testing suite containing individual workstations for running up to ten participants simultaneously. There are also two state-of-the-art electrically shielded, sound-proofed and climate controlled EEG booths for recording brain waves. All testing rooms have an associated control room to monitor the experiments and computers to analyse the results.

Library provision

Oxford's library provision in linguistics is one of the largest in the country. Oxford's libraries are superbly provided with material on theoretical linguistics, the structure and history of European languages (including specialist libraries in Romance and Slavic linguistics), ancient Indo-European languages, and non-Indo-European as well as Indo-European languages of Asia.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of awards are available from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each year, to support graduate students in a range of disciplines. To be considered for any of these studentships you must apply before the January admissions deadline.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£6,745£3,021£9,766
Overseas£18,080£3,021£21,101

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

Depending on your choice of options, and especially the choice of thesis project, some fieldwork or experimental work may be required.  Some thesis options will require laboratory experiments, for which a budget of £75 is available to pay participants. Some may require overseas fieldwork, for which the Faculty has a budget of £500 towards travel and subsistence costs.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You are not required to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
One to three pages

The statement should be written in English and be as specific as possible about your background in linguistics and study aims.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Your statement should focus on your background in linguistics (where relevant) and study aims rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts of the requisite length from longer work are also permissible.

The written work need not relate closely to the proposed area of study, but applicants with prior experience of study in linguistics are encouraged to submit work on linguistic topics.

The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for comprehensive understanding of the subject area of the essay, understanding of problems in the subject area of the essay, ability to construct and defend an argument, powers of analysis, and powers of effective expression in English.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

All references should generally be academic. However, in the case of mature students or intended career changes, a professional reference may be submitted instead of one of the academic references.

If you are a current master’s student or have completed a master’s degree, one of your referees should be your supervisor or course director on the master’s programme. If you do not provide a reference from your master’s supervisor or course director, the department will usually ask you to do so before completing the assessment of your application.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and ability to work in a group.